Squirrel Nut Zippers
Perennial Favorites (Mammoth Records)
By: Alex Steininger
After tasting sweet success with their second album, HOT, the North Carolina seven-piece is back with another outstanding album (PERENNIAL FAVORITES). Fusing jazz and swing influences into one, The Zippers create a sound that is new and refreshing -- despite the obvious nostalgic feel, which soon turns into a new feeling once you spend time with the album.
Opening with a song written before "Hell" entered into heavy rotation on MTV, "Suits are Picking Up the Bill" is a foreshadow that the Zippers soon found to ring true. "In a line at the cafe, I overheard the waitress say 'These cats is broke, I knows 'em!' Spirits sagging, funds are low, this occupation has got to go. Up pulls a limo -- up goes a thrill, the suits are picking up the bill," explains just how the band perceives the business and success, before they've ever achieved it. The swingin' rhythm section works together with the jazz-drenched horn section, all the while the banjo helps add a bit of New Orleans flavor into the song. The vocals compliment everything, and help emphasize the 30's swing influences the band carries.
Yet, "Low Down Man" shows another side of the band. Led by the luscious vocals of Katharine Whalen, the gentle jazz number softly tiptoes out of the speakers. Swaying with a light breeze, the music surrounds you and easily rests your body. As you sit there relaxing, Katharine's vocals fill your body with lovely sounds, so comforting you never want them to stop. Backed by the pedal steel, the mood is set. Light and gorgeous, the song shows the band can slow it down and keep you entertained, just as they can with their boppin' swing.
Speaking of their boppin' swing, "Fat Cat Keeps Getting Fatter" mixes the best of both worlds -- Katharine and Jim lead the band through a swingin' number that will have your body working overtime. The horns pack quite a punch, while the soothing percussion gently keeps the pace steady. The tingling piano helps add an elegant touch to the music, giving it yet another dimension for you to explore. Sounding as if it just might have been recorded in the 30's or 40's (through the use of simple recording procedures and classic equipment), the energy level helps nod towards the music's lively nineties presence.
Starting off with a monster stomp, the percussion for "Soon" quickly grabs your attention. The horns then follow up, helping to ease the quickly rising tension the percussion seems to bring forth. The song soon takes full shape when the vocals enter in, and then calms down a bit. Just as potent as the beginning, the less-aggressive approach helps to sooth you over a bit easier, while still keeping you fully aware of the muscled presence the music has. A bit of a pop feel keeps you boppin', while the horns and rhythm section team up to get you swingin'. Capable of a lot of things, the Squirrel Nut Zippers explore another side of their musical creativeness and come out with flying colors.
"It's Over" closes out the disc (as the name suggests). Soft and breezy, they provide a bluesy-jazz number for you to wind down with. Steamy and provocative, they're able to close out with a number that sums up everything quite nicely.
Some may call the fluke success of "Hell" an act of a one-hit wonder band. Those are the comments of people who judged HOT off the one single, and didn't take the time to listen to the whole album. HOT was a great album, but PERENNIAL FAVORITES finds SNZ's at their best. Still getting better, don't write these guys off. I'll give this disc an A.